Since April 1 2008, local authorities are no longer obliged to place children’s names on a child protection register that they deem to be at risk of harm. This article explores the reasons behind this change as well as the potential consequences

Have you attended a child protection case conference since 1 April? If you have you will have noticed that the question of registration did not arise. This is because local authorities were expected to stop using the system of placing children’s names on a child protection register from 1 April 2008.

Child protection registers have historically held the names of those children deemed to be at risk of significant harm and held by social services departments.

Registers have been replaced by a record of children who are the subject of child protection plans that will be contained in electronic files held by children’s social care departments.

Agencies that have concerns about a child will be expected to contact key workers allocated to the child directly to discuss their concerns. The development of ContactPoint is under way and is expected to be up and running by the summer of 2009. ContactPoint is an electronic database that authorised users will be able to access in order to find out who the key worker for the child is.

This major change in child protection procedure and practice is described in the 2006 version of Working Together to Safeguard the Welfare of Children.

Considering the need for a child protection plan
Child protection case conferences will continue in much the same format, but where in the past agency reps would have been asked their view on registration, they are now asked if they think that the child should be made subject of a child protection plan.

According to the Working Together 2006 conference, in making the decision as to whether the child needs to be the subject of a child protection plan, agency reps should consider the question: Is the child at continuing risk of significant harm? The test for this question is given in section 5.94 of Working Together as either:

  • the child can be shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or  development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
  • professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case, or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.

In cases where it is decided that the test for significant harm has been met and that safeguarding the child from harm requires interagency working and cooperation, this will be achieved through the development and operation of an agreed child protection plan (see box below).

Child protection plans

Working Together states that the outline of the plan should be formulated at the initial child protection conference and plans should include:

  • details of the category of abuse or neglect
  • the name of the key worker (In child protection cases this person will also act as the lead professional with responsibility for coordination of the plan and will always be a qualified social worker.)
  • deciding the membership of the core group
  • recording of the primary presenting concerns.

The child protection conference will expect plans to be clear and detailed. The family need to know what they are expected to do in terms of the changes they need to make in their child rearing practice and lifestyle. The plan will identify which professionals will take responsibility for helping the family to achieve change in each part of the plan.

Core groups
The case conference will identify who should be part of the core group. The core group will include the parents and professionals who are to work closely with the family in order to achieve the changes required by the plan. The date for the first core group meeting is usually set at the end of the conference.

This first core group meeting has been shown as a keystone in setting the scene for future work with the family. It is important that there isn’t a long delay between the case conference and the first core group meeting. Delay between these two meetings has been identified as causing drift in families’ motivation to change. Basically, parents are presented at the case conference with strong opinions on their need to change and this acts as a motivator, if there is then a long delay, parents may slip back into old ways in the belief that the delay suggests that the recommendations made at the conference are not so urgent. It is important that school-based staff who attend conferences are prepared to either be part of the core group or that they can identify a member of staff who can be part of the core group and ensure that that person has time to commit to it.

Does this sound familiar?
The answer should be ‘yes’, as child protection plans have been an expected outcome of child protection registration for many years!

So why the change?
The phasing out of child protection registers has been the subject of many debates over the last few years. A number of government-commissioned pieces of research into child protection processes have shown that the registration of children can cause a certain amount of complacency, as if registration acts as protection in itself. Agencies have been shown to work well with each other in the early recognition of child protection issues and until the point of registration but then agencies other than children’s social care have tended to take a back seat in the ongoing process of safeguarding. So part of the reason for change is to encourage ongoing vigilance in all agencies. The development of agreed multi-agency child protection plans demands close cross-agency working and regular communication between agencies.

Following the Laming report into the death of Victoria Climbé it was recommended that stronger communication systems should be developed between agencies and that this would be best supported by electronic systems that could record which agencies are involved with an individual case, hence the development of ContactPoint.

Will we miss the register?
It remains to be seen as to how effective this change will be in practice. In most areas safeguarding boards are working hard to make sure that the electronic systems are in place to make ContactPoint work as a system of sharing information. One thing is clear: working together will be essential to the success of this change. This is particularly true in local authorities where the children’s workforce is not yet integrated.

Named persons in schools used to be referred to as ‘authorised users of the register’, presumably they will be authorised users of ContactPoint once the system is up and running. Systems are only as good as the people who use them so make sure that you keep yourself informed about developments in your area and take advantage of any training on offer on the new protocols.

Ask your local authority designated officer what is available to you or check your safeguarding board’s website.

We are unable to publish reader comments about individual child protection concerns on this website. If you are worried about a child please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Alternatively you can contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) through your local council.